Lessons Learned from the Living of Life

Some of life's greatest lessons do not come from organized classroom learning sessions. Neither are they to be found in a research paper within a technical journal or a textbook from your personal library. They come from the living of life. And sometimes you need look no further than your family and friends for the best lessons of all. That is what this commentary is all about.
Let me take a point of personal privilege here. Some really neat things have been happening in my world and I want to share them with you. More than that, as is my way, I want to share the lessons which have been gleaned from the living of life during the past few weeks. I would like to thank my long-time buddy Roger Melchoir from Florida for striking the spark which led me to use my computer for something other than reading jokes or grading my university work.
Roger's message asked me if everything was alright in the Carter household. It seems as though he was concerned that I had nothing up on the Firehouse.com website. Let me share with you that all is well. As a matter of fact, everything is going quite well, thank you. The last few weeks have been a blur of glad tidings. However, in the midst of joy, life's lessons can still bubble up to the surface if one takes the time to look for them.
Let me assure you that there is a real reason for my inattention to the world of the written word. Between a series of joyous family occasions and the aftermath of my outstanding trip to the great state of Nebraska, I have had precious little time to sit down at my computer and parse words with you. Between waiting at airports, teaching in class, and enjoying the events in my life, little time was left over to indulge my passion for writing. Not to worry. I am back on line now.
Let me start by sharing the joyous events which have been such a great part of my life over the past few weeks. On May 27, my daughter Ellen became engaged to be married to Patrick Molloy of Shamong Township, New Jersey. Having been a part of the secret process leading up to this great moment for more than a month, it was a joyful relief to finally get the official word on this great event from Ellen herself. It was also really neat to see Ellen ask her sister Kathleen to be her Maid of Honor.   Me, I am just the emotional dad for this very important event.
Ellen and Kathleen are always making an issue of my emotional approach to life. Katie is the tough guy and Ellen is the social butterfly. Each has, in their own way, taught the old Dadster a great deal about dealing with the younger generations. So of you might remember that it was Kathleen who taught me a great deal about how to teach and train the members of her generation. Her dedicated work in the fire company has given me a great deal of joy and pride over the years. Ellen has worked hard to cultivate a love of music and the theater in my life. Let me thank them both for all they have done.
Let me now share what I learned from Patrick with you. I learned that he is a man who believes in the old concepts of respect and deference. More than a month before the night he proposed, he came into my officer here at home and asked if he could have a word with me. He then asked me for my permission to marry my daughter. It was a moment that brought a tear to my eye. But think about it, how many people would just go ahead and get engaged, with no regard for the feelings of the parents. I was proud to share this moment with my wife. We have both come to really love Patrick over the past year. 
Another great moment came on Memorial Day 2011. It might not mean a lot to most of you, but I did something which I had not done for more than five or six years. I actually marched in the Freehold, New Jersey Memorial Day Parade with my buddies from the Adelphia Fire Company. More than that, my friends, in addition to just marching, I returned to my old role of counting the cadence for the fire company. 
There is also a lesson here for all of us. I learned that a man who takes the time to lose 40 pounds and swim more than a half-mile in the pool three times a week can regain some of his youthful (ha, ha, ha) vigor. Let me assure you that it is my intention to continue along the path of fitness that I embarked upon back in early September of last year. The fire company fitness center will open in July and I have my eye on a treadmill and an elliptical machine to move me to the next level. Stay tuned my friends. 
Oh, I also learned that even though I have lost over 40 pounds now, I still am fat. That is a simple fact of life for me. It is my guess that I shall always be some form of fat as long as I live. But it sure is neat to say that I am not as fat. It is also neat to march down the Main Street of your hometown once again. Let me also share with you the fact that one of the world's top musicians was a spectator on May 30th. Bruce Springsteen was on the streets of his hometown sharing his love for the Borough of Freehold with the rest of us.
However, it was the weekend of June 4-5, 2011 that proved to be a truly special period of time for our whole family. It was on Saturday June 4 that my son Todd was ordained a Priest in the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey during a wonderful service steeped in tradition and accompanied by fine brass and choir music. The following day he performed his First Mass at his home church, St. Catherine's in Port Monmouth, New Jersey. It is truly great to see your child become a respected member of an important part of the fabric of our nation.
From my son I learned the lessons of patience and persistence. His ordination was the culmination of ten years of post-high school education. He earned a math degree at the College of New Jersey (Trenton State for my fellow old-timers). He then went on to earn a pair of master's degrees from the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in the Diocese of Philadelphia. Both degrees were earned with honors. 
In addition, Todd also battled his way through a serious medical condition last November. He began to suffer from severe headaches and double vision. He was diagnosed as having a cerebral-spinal fluid leak in his brain. He spent a period of time in the hospital and after a period of hospitalization and home convalescence, he returned to the seminary in early December. Todd faced every day with a smile and a prayer. He was truly a model of fortitude and perseverance to us all.
However, it was toward the end of his First Mass on Sunday when he showed to his mother and me that he was a man of gratitude and appreciation. As he was thanking the various people who assisted him in conducting the service, he turned to his mother and me.  In a solid voice he thanked us for the way we had raised him and for all of the support we had given to him over the years. Talk about a magic moment. 
Let me suggest that it is a rare time in a man's life when he can know with a high degree of certainty that he has raised a fine son. It is extremely gratifying for me to see him assume a position of great responsibility within the Catholic Church. People will depend upon him for spiritual support and religious education. Further, it was great for my wife and I to hear him praised and supported by the members of his home parish. 
Let me add that I learned the lesson of love, loyalty, and support from my many friends who shared this special time with me. My best buddy, Jack Peltier and his wife Sue came down from Massachusetts to share their love and support with my family and me. They have been there for me during the good times and bad alike over the past 35 years. That is just the way it is for true friends. 
Pastor Scott Brown from the Colts Neck Reformed Church and our Associate Pastor Chris Van DeBunte and his wife Ellen came out to support us in Trenton. In addition, Ellen's parents Reed and Nancy Feuster made the journey to be with us. This is particularly noteworthy, since it was Nancy who was Todd's nursery school teacher back at the Hope Lutheran Church Christian School back in the mid-1980's. 
Chris Pujat, his wife Donna, and their daughter Christine, came out to share in this happy event. They were joined by Donna's mom Phyllis Ward and our church-going friend Marge Wilson. These are really long standing friends from the fire company. Heck, Donna was the Carter Family babysitter for Kathleen, Todd, and Ellen for many years. 
I also want to thank my buddy Nolan Higgins and his wife Christine for coming out to share in the joy of the day. I would be remiss if I failed to thank my chiropractor Tim Hayes for coming out to share in the fun of the reception.  I am patient number 0001 in his practice. We have been buddies for more than a quarter century. Let me point out that they all taught me the importance of friendship in a person's life.
Let me share with you the great trip to Nebraska which led me to meet some of the neatest people in the American Fire Service. My two hosts, Shane Cuttlers and George Teixeira were the best. They could not do enough to welcome me to their state fire school.  I must tell you that it has been a number of years since I spent the better part of three days on my feet as a classroom instructor. Shane and George taught me the importance of sharing what you know with people. 
However, let me tell you, the results of my labors were well worth the effort. It was my privilege to interact with one of the best groups of students that it has been my good fortune to meet in many a year. They responded well, asked great questions, and put up with me running them over the intellectual high hurdles. They actively participated at every turn in the road. My friends, it was with an actual sense of sadness that I took my leave of Grand Island, Nebraska. It is not often that I get to make that comment.

My friends, the lessons which I have learned over the past few weeks will last me a lifetime.  Let me suggest to you that you too should look to life's lessons as a guide to living the best life possible.  This is not a rehearsal my friends. We only go this way once. Please take the time to make the most of this life and its opportunities to learn.  Take care and stay safe.